South Sudan: 'The brutality and violence is indescribable'

Upper Nile residents wait for assistance after being displaced from their homes in the ongoing civil war in South Sudan.Reuters

After years of political unrest and violence, the people of South Sudan are still forced to live in horrendous conditions, and are being driven to starvation.

A report compiled by Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) describes citizens being forced to eat grass and berries to avoid starving to death. According to the UN, at least 4.6 million people are facing severe food insecurity in the county, and over half of the total population of 12 million are in need of aid. The UN has also estimated that 50,000 South Sudanese children could die in 2015 as a result of the crisis and some 2 million people are believed to have been displaced.

"Chronic needs such as severe food insecurity, high rates of malnutrition, vulnerability to disease outbreaks and exposure to gender-based violence" are present in numerous parts of South Sudan, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has warned.

"Life-threatening needs driven by the conflict are made worse by extreme poverty and some of the world's lowest levels of development indicators."

One South Sudanese trying to flee the crisis told ACN that though they had lived through war in the past, "the brutality and violence of the struggles this time is indescribable".

The people of South Sudan feel "left on their own," he added.

On July 9, South Sudan celebrated its fourth anniversary since its secession from the north in 2011. However, having been plagued with instability ever since, a fresh wave of violence began in December 2013 following an attempted coup by soldiers loyal to President Salva Kiir's former deputy Riek Machar. The fighting subsequently escalated, spreading throughout the country and fracturing it along ethnic lines.

In May of this year, fighting intensified, causing a number of NGOs, including World Vision and Doctors without Borders, to withdraw from the north of the country. NGOs are also now bound by a new bill which requires them to go through government channels in order to deliver aid, severely hindering the process.

"Millions of South Sudanese...instead of enjoying peace in their nation, live in a state of fear, hunger, illness and destitution," a statement from OCHA's Humanitarian coordinator, Ahmed Warsame, said last week.

Refugees now living in the north of the country are experiencing "inexplicable" suffering, ACN was told. Women and children are particularly vulnerable, even in displacement camps, and reports of "deliberately targeted shooting" into at least one camp have emerged.

Of those who have been displaced by the crisis, some 500,000 are refugees in neighbouring countries, including Sudan, which is also struggling with food insecurity. Ongoing armed conflict is causing the humanitarian situation to deteriorate, and over five million are in need of aid, including 1.2 million acute malnourished children under five years old.